The world’s oldest colour discovered by Aussie scientists

Rodiano Bonacci
Luglio 10, 2018

Earth itself is about 4.5 billion years old and researchers said the latest find shed light on why more sophisticated plant and animal life only came into existence 600 million years ago.

Scientists have unearthed the world's oldest colors, or pigments, from deep beneath the Sahara.

Chlorophyll is what gives modern plants their green color, though the fossilized chlorophyll in the cyanobacteria samples was dark red and deep purple in its concentrated form, the scientists reported.

Upon analysis, Gueneli said the ancient pigment resulted from molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were processed by ancient photosynthetic organisms that once ruled the oceans.

"Then you really would have a colour and that's what we found - only that the molecules that we found are 10 times older than a T-rex would have been".

For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 9, Gueneli and her team pulverized the billion-year-old rocks they found beneath the Sahara desert.

"These pink pigments, their exact structure and composition tells us there was an efficient energy food source missing at the base of the food web", he said. This meant that all organisms at the time were feeding on the cyanobacteria.

Senior lead researcher Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from ANU says that the emergence of large, active organisms was likely to have been restrained by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae.

At first, scientists thought it had to do with a lack of oxygen, but it turns out that may not be the case. In fact, the ancient oceans that were once dominated by the cyanobacterial started to disappear when algae became prevalent. While algae is microscopic, it is many thousands of times larger than cyanobacteria making for a much richer food source.

The discovery of the world's oldest biological colour could help explain why it took 4 billion years for animal life to form on Earth. "When algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth".

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